Why search for a sperm donor online? The experiences of women searching for & contacting sperm donor


Why search for a sperm donor online? The experiences of women searching for & contacting sperm donors on the internet

Whilst studies have examined the experiences of women who use clinic donors, to date there has been limited research investigating women’s motivations and experiences of searching for a sperm donor online. A total of 429 women looking for a sperm donor on Pride Angel (a website that facilitates contact between donors and recipients) completed an online survey. Fifty-eight percent (249) saw advantages of obtaining donated sperm online with the most common advantage reported as being able to connect with and meet the donor (n = 50 (24%)). A third (n = 157 (37%)) of the participants gave disadvantages, the most common reported was encountering ‘dishonest donors’ (n = 63 (40%)). Most recipients (n = 181 (61%)) wanted the donor to be ‘just a donor’ (i.e. to provide sperm and have no further contact). Whilst it was important for recipients to know the identity of the donor, some did not see this as important for the child and thus the level of information that parents have about the donor, and that which the child has, can differ. Finding a donor online blurs the distinction between categories of ‘anonymous’, ‘known’ and ‘identity release’ donations. Whilst the survey had a large sample size, the representativeness of the sample is not known.


There has been a rise in the number of websites that facilitate contact between recipients of sperm and sperm donors, yet there are no clear estimates of how large the online sperm donation market is in the UK and abroad. This increase may be related to changes in legislation in some countries that replaces donor anonymity with identity release donors (where the donor’s identity can be disclosed to the child in the future, usually at age 18 years) (Bossema et al., 2014; Woestenburg, Winter, & Janssens, 2015). The popularity of seeking a sperm donor online may result from recipients wanting to know the donor from the outset rather than waiting to discover his identity when their child reaches age 18 years (Freeman, Appleby, & Jadva, 2012). Whilst clinics provide a regulated route to sperm donation and have advantages in that recipients avoid several practical, medical and legal hurdles that can occur when accessing sperm in an informal way (Nordqvist, 2010), women who find their own sperm donors are able to meet him, have more information about him and negotiate the level of involvement he would have with the resultant child (Almack, 2006; Nordqvist, 2010).

Different types of donors (identity release, known, anonymous) enable recipients and the resultant child to have varying levels of involvement with the donor. Gartrell et al. (1996) found that reasons given by lesbian parents for selecting a known donor included wanting the donor to help raise the child, to have a special relationship with the child and to enable the child to determine the nature of the relationship with the donor in the future. Reasons for choosing an unknown donor included not wanting anyone to interfere in the family, concerns over child custody and not knowing anyone willing to be a known donor. A follow-up of these mothers when children were aged 18 years found that, whilst most parents were satisfied with the type of donor they had chosen, of the 28 mothers who reported being dissatisfied, most (n ¼ 19; (65.5%)) had used an unknown donor (Gartrell, Bos, Goldberg, Deck, & van Rijn-van Gelderen, 2015). Those who had used an unknown donor were significantly more likely to feel dissatisfied than satisfied with their donor type. The dissatisfaction was expressed in relation to how their child may feel about the lack of information available about their donor. Lesbian mothers who were satisfied with their choice of a known donor spoke of the importance of the child having a relationship with the donor (Gartrell et al., 2015).

A comparison between mothers in two parent heterosexual families and single mothers found that partnered mothers were less likely to feel positive about having an identity release donor (Freeman, Zadeh, Smith, & Golombok, 2013). Single mothers have been found to have diverse views about their donor. Whilst most single women saw the donor as an important feature of their family even though he was not physically in the family, others did not see the donor as important. These views could change over time and were not dependent on whether the donor was anonymous or identifiable (Zadeh, Freeman, & Golombok, 2016). It might be expected that identity-release donation or known donation may increase disclosure by parents. However, studies have found no differences in disclosure rates between women who had used an anonymous egg donor and those who had used a known egg donor (Greenfield & Klock, 2004), or between heterosexual women who had used an anonymous sperm donor and those that who had used an identifiable donor (Freeman, et al. 2013).

The type of relationship between the offspring and a known donor can be viewed as existing on a continuum ranging from minimal involvement through to co-parenting (where the donor is involved in raising the child as a parent) (Dempsey, 2010; Goldberg & Allen, 2013; Jadva, Freeman, Tranfield, & Golombok, 2015). Likewise, donor-conceived individuals may view a known donor in different ways, ranging from ‘just a donor’ to an extended family member or as a father (Goldberg & Allen, 2013). In addition, men donating in informal ways may differ from those who do so through a clinic.

Donors who donate via the internet have been reported to be more likely to want to pass on their genes compared to clinic donors (Woestenburg, et al., 2015). In addition, donating through the internet enables donors to know who they are donating to, to have information about any children that are born following their donation (Woestenburg et al., 2015) and provides greater choice and control over how they donate (Freeman, Jadva, Tranfield, & Golombok, 2016a). A survey of 56 men who were looking to donate their sperm online found that donor age and income were important in determining how many times they were selected, as were factors such as being less extroverted and more intellectual, shy and systematic (Whyte & Torgler, 2016). A survey of 74 women looking for an online sperm donor found that they had a greater preference for certain character traits, specifically reliability, openness and kindness and were less concerned about traits such as income, political views and religious beliefs (Whyte & Torgler, 2015).

The present study examined why women search for a sperm donor online, the type of involvement they anticipated from their donor with their child and how the process of contacting donors online was experienced. The specific aims were to determine the reasons why recipients looked for a sperm donor online including the advantages and disadvantages of doing so, their preferences on donor identifiability, how important they felt it was to meet and get along with the donor, how contact was made and what aspects of the donation were discussed with him.

The sample was drawn from Pride Angel (www.prideangel.com), a worldwide website based in the UK that facilitates contact between donors and recipients of egg and sperm. It is one of the largest and most well-known websites of its kind in the UK. The website enables members to create an online profile should they choose to, and to search for and communicate with other users.

To read more go to http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14647273.2017.1315460